Forty years ago today (June 1st) Ballycastle became the first Ulster team to play in an All Ireland Club Hurling final when they took on Galway champions Castlegar in the decider at Pairc Tailteann, Navan. It was also the first time, and the only time up until Cushendall played Sarsfields in the 2006 decider that both Munster and Leinster champions did not compete on the big day.
After beating Leinster champions Crumlin decisively in the semi-final
Ballycastle travelled with high hopes, despite pundits making the Galway champions red hot favourites. In this battle between the Connollys and the Donnellys there was little to choose between the sides for most of the game and with just minutes remaining just a point separated the sides.
However the Connolly backed Castlegar finished strongly with two late points to become the first Galway team to win the Tommy Moore Cup.
The report of the game used here appeared in one of the Galway papers and quite understandably has a slight Galway slant to it but ask anyone who was there that day and they will tell you that there was little or nothing to chose between these two fine sides on the day.
All Ireland Club Senior Hurling final – June 1st 1980
Castlegar (Galway) 1-11 Ballycastle (Antrim) 1-8
Castlegar Crowned Champions
By Bob McDonald
They used up all the clichés on the way home from Navan on Sunday People spoke of an historic victory for Galway hurling and just reward for Castlegar’s dominance of the hurling scene here over the past two years. Others even had the cheek to suggest it was John Connolly’s first and last All Ireland medal. No doubt the big centre half back would have his own opinion about such a supposition, but he couldn’t argue with the fact that Sunday’s victory over Ballycastle must rank as one of the sweetest victories in his illustrious career.
And the Castlegar supporters knew fine well just what it meant to their heroes to bring the Tommy Moore Cup back to Galway. It was a magnificent victory and it was fitting that each of the fifteen Castlegar fifteen produced memorable performances against an excellent Ballycastle outfit, whose skill and honest endeavour might have reaped them greater rewards against lesser sides.
But on the day the Galway men were unbeatable but even the most objective supporters could not help be caught up in the sheer excitement and closeness of this hard fought game. Castlegar proved they were worthy champions when they came back from three points down at a stage in the opening half to lead by a point at half time. They survived a gruelling five minutes spell on the resumption when the ball rarely, if ever, left their half, but finally they gained the upper hand and stormed into attack to confirm their winning margin.
And there was coolness too when five minute from time Castlegar were awarded a penalty which if scored would have put the game beyond doubt, but Joe Connolly showed a cool head to fire the ball over the bar – discretion being the better part of valour.
Three factors decided the outcome of this game. Castlegar’s ground hurling was far superior to that of their opponents (the only are in which they had a distinct advantage). Time and time again a Ballycastle man was first to the ball, only to have it knocked away with a clever flick, but that was the only difference as far as hurling skill went. Then when the going got tough at midfield where Tom Murphy and Seamus Fahy were well beaten by Ballycastle’s Terence Barton and Stephen Boyle, Joe Connolly dropped back from centre-forward to help out, and when he wasn’t there brother John stayed up from the half-back line. The final, and probably most telling factor was that the Castlegar backs who were absolutely brilliant in containing a fast and dangerous set of forwards, hell ben on playing their hearts out to the bitter end.
Castlegar started the game on a somewhat shaky footing and had it not been for Joe Connolly’s excellent free taking, they might have found themselves in deep trouble. The early stages of the game developed into something of a free-taking shoot-out between Connolly and Ballycastle marksman Peter Boyle. In fact no fewer that seven of Castlegar’s first half points came from Joe Connolly frees, the other one, a real beauty, came from big brother John from way out on the right wing.
But Castlegar had to survive some moments before they went in at half time with a one point lead and one stage they trailed by three after Olcan Laverty took advantage of a defensive slip-up to fire home the Ballycaste goal. The goal came after fifteen minutes and might have been a hammer blow for lesser sides. Goalkeeper Tom Gorgan delayed fractionally over a clearance and was blocked down by a Ballycastle forward and as the ball broke Laverty lashed it high into the Castlegar net. That left the score 1-4 to 0-4 and the Galway side seemed to have it all to do, but to their credit they responded magnificently. The defence closed down every Ballycastle move as soon as it began, while at the other end Joe Connolly continued to pick off the points and his team battled back to lead by 0-8 to 1-4 at half-time.
The opening period of the second half saw an incredible period of pressure from Ballycastle, and equally incredible defence from the Castlegar backs. Although the ball hardly left the Castlegar half for the opening five minutes the Ballycastle forwards never got a clear shooting opportunity. The backs harried, hassled and harassed the Ballycastle forwards. Time and again the Ballycastle men were first to the ball but they were soon closed down and the scoring opportunity was gone. Eventually the Galway men lifted the siege and a beautiful movement involving John and Joe Connolly left Jimmy Francis with a simple task to take his point.
A minute later Joe Connolly won possession out on the wing and dropped the ball in around the Ballycastle square where corner-forward Liam Mulryan doubled the ball to the net, for the telling score of the game. Ballycastle battled back and three more points from the Peter Boyle and one from Terence Barton cut the gap back to a point but Gerry and Joe Connolly hit back with points in the dying minutes to seal the win.
CASTLEGAR – T Grogan, T Murphy, P Connolly, J Coady, G Glynn, John Connolly (0-1), M Glynn, T Murphy, S Fahy, J Francis (0-1) , Joe Connolly (0-8-all frees), P Connor, G Connolly (0-1), M Connolly, M Connor, L Mulryan (1-0).
Subs – P Burke for Connor (half time)
BALLYCASTLE – Paul Smyth, Kevin Boyle, Kevin Donnelly, Gerard McAuley, Seamus Donnelly, Terence Donnelly, Dessie Donnelly, Terence Barton (0-1), Stephen Boyle, Brian Donnelly, Phelim Watson, Peter Boyle (0-7), Peter Dallat, Eddie Donnelly, Olcan Laverty (1-0).
SUBS – John McHenry, Charlie McVeigh, Paul Kelly, Brendan Donnelly, Mickey Dallat.
Referee – N Duggan Limerick